I knew I was in the right place when I saw a painting resting in front of room 209 on the second floor of a charming Solvang building. The door was ajar, so I peered my head inside — artwork graced the space — and Maryvonne LaParlière emerged wearing an impressive smile. “Bonjour!” she exclaimed.
Ushering me inside, she gave me a tour around her new space — Galerie LaParlière. Some canvas works catch my eye, like her “Golden California” — a bluff covered in California poppies overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But it’s clear to me that her favorite creations live on the surfaces of furniture. “I’m a decorative artist,” she says as we admire the “The Swamp Chest” — a four-drawer emerald-green dresser covered with a painting of a swamp.
LaParlière spent her formative years living in Rueil-Malmaison near Château de Malmaison — the former home of Empress Joséphine Bonaparte, the first wife of Napoléon. Raised in the suburbs of Paris, LaParlière cultivated an artistic vision deeply inspired by her roots.
She remembers her “aha!” moment quite well. Her 4-year-old self picked up a paintbrush as she sat at her school table in her kindergarten in France. She started painting a cherry tart. “I was trying really hard to get the right color of the custard,” she says. Frustrating as it may have been, she welcomed the challenge — a mindset that would shape her future as an artist.
A captivating collage of newspaper clippings in the gallery’s adjacent room chronicles her remarkable, nearly four-decades-long career. LaParlière draws a circular motion in the air as she tells me she is “closing the loop” of her artistic journey in Solvang.
In 1987, she moved to the West Coast and made Santa Barbara her home. Notably, she was commissioned to craft a remarkable 70 feet of murals at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital. Sharing her creations and perfecting her craft, she gained recognition from many prominent individuals in California, including Priscilla Presley, who deemed LaParlière her favorite artist.
Her artistic journey led her to Virginia, where she established galleries in Charlottesville and Gordonsville. After a brief return to Santa Barbara, she ventured to Amherst, Virginia, where had a gallery but closed it down during the COVID shutdown. Eventually, she found her way to the Santa Ynez Valley, where she currently resides.
In LaParlière’s cozy home overlooking the Santa Ynez mountains, her dogs, Todor and Benny, keep us company as we sit in comfortable leather chairs. Sipping kombucha, we chat about the art in every corner of the house. She painted relentlessly during her most productive years from the 1990s to the 2000s, perfecting her creative process. She could paint all day long. “Now it’s like three hours maximum,” she tells me. It typically begins with a rough sketch, and she rarely approaches a canvas without a clear vision. “But the more I paint, it can change,” she continued.
Her gallery holds an array of magnificent works, but her house also has an especially impressive collection. Perhaps the most eye-catching piece is her armoire — “The Life Armoire” — that took her three years to paint, with some breaks in between. The piece represents different seasons and places in nature, from snowy mountains to monarch butterflies to a spring bloom and a peaceful swan.
During the pandemic, she started a project painting faux tiles on the walls in her backyard area. She calls the style of work trompe l’œil, a visual art term that translates to “deceives the eye.” Standing from afar, and even up close, it’s hard to tell that the tiles are indeed just painted on the wall.
When I ask her, “Why furniture?” she tells me there simply wasn’t enough room on one canvas for her. “I started like everyone on the canvas,” she says. “But for some reason, it was too confined; I wanted to go outside the canvas.” She can wrap entire landscapes on furniture, elevating them from two-dimensional to three-dimensional art.
“My goal is to put my name out there so people can enjoy what I’m doing,” she says. This new gallery is a chance for her to showcase her work again and connect with artists and people interested in buying her art. “I enjoy seeing people enjoy my work,” she says, as we admire the “Clock Armoire” in her gallery — a work she named her favorite.
LaParlière has created an abundance of works in her lifetime, but letting her pieces go is still hard. She laughs and tells me she doesn’t want to sell everything she makes.
“I just want to keep it all.” She points to the decorative side table she just finished painting. The tag on top of the bright blue piece reads: “Happy Little Bombe Chest.” “I am not ready to let it go yet…. But if you want to know the price: $3,950.”
The piece is intricate, as are all of her meticulously crafted works. This one is a blue three-drawer chest adorned with pink accents overlaid with various birds resting on branches. She aims to occupy “every square inch” of her works with paint — decorating every stubborn curve, edge, and plane. “I am a perfectionist,” she says.
Art was always her plan and always will be. “It’s my mission on earth,” she says. “I will never stop unless I cannot physically do it.” While this gallery represents a new chapter in her life, the artistic vision never wanes.
Her ultimate dream? A collective space in Solvang where artists of all mediums can display and sell their work. “Artists are vital in this town, and there are lots of good ones who need more exposure.”
It seems LaParlière won’t stop anytime soon.
Galerie LaParlière, 485 Alisal Rd., Solvang, Ste. #209; laparliere.com
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